Recession Fears: A Threat to Editorial Budgets?

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 10:12 PM

Economic downturns typically put a squeeze on a publication's content expenditures.

By William Dunkerley

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman claims there's a "pretty good chance of a recession sometime in the next year or so."

Recessions are usually toxic to editorial budgets, so Krugman's prophecy is quite troubling. Editor & Publisher magazine has already put its readers on notice. A recent article explains:

"The entirety of US history tells us that it's a question of when, not if, the next recession will hit."

E&P elaborated:

"With a 10-year stretch in the 1990s as the only exception, we've never gone longer than eight years without one. And it's been nine and a half years since the last recession."

Not everyone agrees that we're headed for a full-blown recession. According to EO reader C.G. Masi:

"I do not agree that a recession is in the offing. As far back as 2009 I used PCA (principal component analysis) to look into likely economic prospects for the (then) foreseeable future using the Dow Jones Industrial Average as a proxy for general economic health.

"It indicated gradually improving growth through 2018 followed by about five years of slowly deteriorating performance leading to another slow-growth period reaching its nadir in the 2025–2030 time frame. So far, these trends are right on schedule."

Masi cautions that his analysis related to general economic conditions and not to the publishing field specifically.

Another EO reader, requesting anonymity, put it this way:

"I agree we're headed for a downturn, but it's unclear how severe that might be. It's also unsure what the effect might be this time on editorial. Less spending on the content side is always a possibility. But at my publication we've been diversifying into new areas such as events and more in-depth research products. So that could minimize any impact on the traditional side of our business from a softening economy."

Whether we'll see a recession or just a slowdown, the prospect of any downturn portends nothing good for most editors. It's certainly an issue that needs to be on our radar. Now is a good time to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses and to get ready for whatever the economic challenge.

Robin Sherman of Robin Sherman Editorial and Design Services offers this detailed analysis:

"It seems with so many mergers/acquisitions over so many pre- and post-digital eras, that publication editorial and design resources -- especially print -- need to be increased. Management support for continuing education is critical.

"Editorial and design staffers, who used to work 50 hours a week before digital, now have to work many more hours to accommodate email newsletters, websites, etc. They're faced with smaller staffs and fewer monetary resources for reader research, freelancers, and even for rewriting press releases to incorporate original reporting and additional news sources, etc.

"Thus, the quality of our products has decreased dramatically in many instances. I see this when I judge journalism contests. So many submissions are lacking in journalism/design fundamentals. Even in business-to-business journalism the lower overall quality damages trust among readers. Trust cannot be taken for granted.

"Bear in mind that some of the lower quality is the result of editors and designers not knowing how to think like the other. (I.e., editors must understand design; designers must know journalism.) Not knowing precisely what their readers need and want and how to package the content for accessibility and usefulness is a related issue. Plus, many editors and designers simply don't know how to engage the reader.

"We're all chasing technology, too, as it changes every three months. It's all we can do just to get the publication out. We are own worst enemy sometimes."

If we don't look now at our publications' strengths and weaknesses -- and, indeed, the quality of our content -- we may come up short in the future. Ten years ago Editors Only ran an article titled "Editors Suffer from Recession Cuts." Its lead decried:

"These days when editors speak of 'future tense' they're not talking about grammar."

We explained:

"Publication editors are apprehensive over what's ahead. They're seeing their colleagues' jobs terminated. Their own jobs are on the line. Raises are cancelled and sometimes salaries are cut. Workloads are up. Morale is down.

"And what did editors do to deserve all that? Nothing. Most have been doing their jobs well. The reason they've been receiving the brunt of this recession is because their companies or organizations have been experiencing revenue shortfalls. As a result, many top managers go looking through the budget for things that can be cut."

An unfortunate fact of life is that when revenues decline many publishers have a knee-jerk response to cut editorial expenses. We need to have strategies for dealing with that.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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A Thought Wrapped with a Fortune Cookie

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

Correction does much, but encouragement everything!

By Peter P. Jacobi

A thought wrapped with a fortune cookie.

The Food Network.

An Indiana University music student in private lesson with teacher.

You.

Together, the above become my subject for this month's column, this because of this writer's wandering mind.

The Thought

"Correction does much, but encouragement everything." I'll elaborate later.

The Chef

Sometimes, while eating lunch or dinner alone at home, I will switch television channels, from those repeating and repeating and repeating the political hubbub in Washington to the Food Channel, which provides better entertainment than politics, as well as lessons of its own.

Chopped, as you know, begins with four chefs gathered to compete for a lofty financial prize. They go through three rounds for which they must find ways of treating not only edible but tempting dishes to a team of three judges. The least favored prepared dish gets its maker eliminated, so that the original four contestants are reduced to three, then two, and -- finally -- a winner.

All the contestants have rich backgrounds. They have their own restaurants or food services, or they are chefs at eateries of prominence. But they will make errors, according to the taste buds and eyes of the judges, whose judgment results in elimination. If they didn't come to the show with expertise, they'd not even know how to put a dish together out of the outrageous combination of elements given them to work with.

But the competing quartet discovers through their actions and the judges' reactions that to be a winner, they must go beyond skill to creativity, and through their labors prove a love for food and cooking. One discovers while watching that they have a passion, and one concludes that the higher a contestant's level of skill, creativity, passion, and love for the craft, the greater the chance for success.

Take one more Food Channel show, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, hosted by Guy Fieri, whose stomach, I think, must either be cast in iron or disintegrating. The food he jaws and gobbles, seemingly with the greatest of gusto, so heavily favors seasonings in the extreme. With my German and middle European background, I'd never make it through a single meal at one of those spots.

But Fieri has the courage and, apparently, an amazingly expansive love for food to try whatever is offered him. And he does it without slowing down or stopping. The channel shows his programs endlessly; each one consists of visits to three different eateries, and those eateries stretch geographically across the fifty states, north to Canada, south, and across a couple of oceans. His life cannot be easy.

But what amazes me even more are the chefs of the restaurants he visits. They demonstrate extraordinary culinary skills and the highest level of loving involvement. Time after time, one hears they've been at the same job for decades, day after day, week after week, year after year, preparing their specialties. Preparations they go through look and sound brutally complicated. In the process, however, the preparers seem glowingly joyous, proud, fresh, with an unflagging desire to do what they're doing again tomorrow. Love is definitely in the air. I'd be ready for the loony bin by the end of day 1. I love to eat, but the making of meals I can do without. Those chefs live not so much to eat food as to fix it.

The Music Student

The Indiana University music student in practice and lesson: As the local paper's music columnist and reviewer, I sometimes get to sit in on lessons and rehearsals. A young violinist and his/her teacher may spend an hour or more on a single line of music, striving to achieve the right combination of musical effects: the rhythm, intonation, flow, interpretive touch, and assurance that works.

The students will become increasingly aware that, if they decide to make music their profession, they will be doing this on a lifelong basis. The practicing, the rehearsals, the learning never stop. They will, in addition, not only keep a current repertoire fresh but seek to expand it. They will need to take care of their instruments, be it a violin or trumpet or human voice. They will deal with agents and booking and publicity and travel and social occasions and little time for restful privacy, or even family. A musician's life, for all the gratification it can bring, is not an easy one. Again, the musician -- and any serious artist -- must possess that combination of skill, creative urge, passion, need, and love. As with the life of a chef, so with a musician: the days and nights bring tiring and uninspiring repetition that, for success, the musician must overcome.

The Thought Wrapped with the Fortune Cookie

Writers, like musicians, like chefs, like other masters of an art or craft, face the same issues. They are called upon day after day after day to compose art out of language. No matter how they feel physically, emotionally, or mentally. No matter what the subject. No matter how difficult the task. Day after day after day. Story after story after story. Again, there must be skill, but beyond skill the creative urge, the passion, the need, the love.

That's where you come in: the editor. Working for you is a person who strives to show his or her skill, creative urge, passion, love. Try to remember that nurture can help, that "Correction does much, but encouragement everything!" Really do.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Comment:

"Thank you, Peter, for so eloquently expressing what drives creative people in general. As a multimedia artist, myself (writing is just one creative outlet among many), I can report that what drives all artists is love of their art for their art's sake. Remember Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime!" -- C.G. Masi

The Fog Index

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

Assessing the readability of a TheAtlantic.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index sample comes from an older TheAtlantic.com piece ("There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts" by Caroline Fredrickson, from September 15, 2015). Here's the text:

"If the rationale for using low-wage professorial labor is affordable college, however, it hasn't worked. Tuition increases inspire awe at their size -- public universities cost three times what they cost in 1980, private universities twice as much. As universities have added amenities like squash courts and luxury dorms, their spending has increased threefold, but the student-teacher ratio remains the same as it was in the past. If you think these tuition increases resulted from an investment in providing a better education for the students in the classroom, consider the growth in administrative staff and administrative pay."

--Word count: 96 words
--Average sentence length: 24 words (15, 22, 29, 30)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 18 percent (17/96 words)
--Fog Index (24+18)* .4 = 16 (16.8, no rounding)

We need to cut 5 points from the Fog Index. The 96 words in this sample are split into just 4 sentences. This skews the Fog score upward, as does the somewhat elevated percentage of longer words. Can we cut the Fog without stripping the writing of its essence?

"If the logic for using low-wage professorial labor is cheaper college, however, it hasn't worked. Tuition increases have been shocking in their size. Public universities cost three times what they did in 1980, private universities twice as much. As universities have added extras such as squash courts and luxury dorms, their spending has increased threefold. But the student-teacher ratio remains the same. If you think these tuition increases resulted from an investment in better schooling for the students, consider the growth in administrative staff and pay."

--Word count: 86 words
--Average sentence length: 14 words (15, 8, 15, 17, 7, 24)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 13 percent (11/86 words)
--Fog Index (14+13)* .4 = 10 (10.8, no rounding)

Splitting up longer sentences made all the difference here. We made 6 sentences out of the original 4, which cut average sentence length by 10 points. A few modest word changes brought down the percentage of longer words by 5 points. This allowed us to cut 6 points total from the original Fog Index.

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Journalists versus Misinformation

Posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 at 10:11 PM

In the news: The Poynter Institute explores how misinformation is affecting journalists.

Social media has made it possible for fake news to proliferate at lightning speed. But the problem isn't just with social media users, writes Daniel Funke of Poynter org. Citating a study of over a thousand journalists by the Institute for the Future, he writes that "more than 80% of journalists admitted to falling for false information online" and that "only 14.9% of journalists surveyed said they had been trained on how to best report on misinformation."

So what can journalists do to fight the spread of fake news when they themselves are vulnerable to it? Perhaps most important, claims Samuel Woolley of Digital Intelligence Lab in Funke's article, is intensive training on how to verify information and spot misinformation.

Read more here.

Also Notable

Regaining Journalist Credibility after Missteps

The Poynter Institute's Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership has joined up with Newsweek to restore credibility after a rough year. In 2018, the weekly's "offices were raided by the Manhattan D.A., its editors publicly rebuked its parent company for interfering with their reporting and its former co-owner was indicted on fraud and money-laundering charges," summarizes Greg Dool of Foliomag.com. Essentially, he writes, "top editors were fired 'for doing their jobs.'" He reports that Poynter will work with Newsweek's editorial team. Read more about the partnership here.

TikTok: A New Social Media Frontier for Publishers?

TikTok, a social media app formerly known as Musical.ly, is presenting publishers with a platform for video content. Among those exploring the app are NBC News and ESPN. The jury is out on how lucrative a mode of content delivery it will be; monetization isn't yet possible, though Kerry Flynn of Digiday.com reports that "a biddable option for media buyers will be available in beta next week and to all this summer, per a buyer, and could open the door to more monetization options for publishers in the future." Read more here.

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